REVIEW: Star Wars: The Old Republic [PC]

Knights of the Old Republic is regarded as some of BioWare‘s best work and one of the greatest Star Wars games of all time, so it was always unlikely they were done with that galaxy far, far away.

When the company finally revealed Star Wars: The Old Republic, everyone nodded their head and felt vindicated. It was what we were all expecting BioWare to do one day, so nobody was really surprised.

But then BioWare dropped the other shoe – the game would be the company’s first venture into the MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online game) genre. A genre so dominated by one game that any other entrant is invariably compared to (or called a clone of) World of Warcraft.

The Force would need to be strong with this one indeed if it hoped to carve off its own slice of delicious MMO pie.

[img_big]center,5446,2012-01-11/ss04_full.jpg,Star Wars: The Old Republic[/img_big]

Having played through the latter stages of the beta and into the first few weeks of release, SWTOR is off to a flying start. With few of the lag issues, game crippling bugs and lengthy queue problems common to most MMO launches, BioWare‘s decision to initially limit sales of the game may prove to be one of their smartest, in spite of the angst it caused within the community.

After logging in for the first time and selecting a server, you’re presented with a deceptively simple choice – do you fight for all that is right and good and Jedi-y in the galaxy and join the Galactic Republic? Or do you prefer the company of the villains, miscreants and general scum, with their dubious allegiance to the Sith Empire?

Search your feelings, you know which answer is correct. But remember, once you start down the dark path forever will your friends mock your decision to join the Sith, the emo kids of the galaxy.

After picking a side you’re presented with the four basic class options. For the Sith this includes the Sith Warrior, Sith Inquisitor, Bounty Hunter and Imperial Agent. These play much as a dark mirror to the Republic’s Jedi Knight, Jedi Consular, Trooper and Smuggler classes.

The first two on each side are the lightsaber- and Force-wielding classes while the latter two rely on heavy armour, SWTOR‘s nifty cover mechanic or a high tech stealth ability to even the odds. Each one branches at level 10 into an Advanced Class, with healing, tanking and damage roles available, giving players a number of paths for developing their skills.

[img_big]center,5446,2012-01-11/ss_04_FULL.jpg,Star Wars: The Old Republic[/img_big]

To further customise your character you can choose a race and a gender. These choices are primarily cosmetic, with no gameplay advantages being granted as a result, though some races have more options available than others. Human females have dozens of hairstyle options while Zabraks of either gender can choose between only a handful of ugly facial tattoos and some tufts of hair between their cranial horns.

Each class has both a male and a female voice actor and none of them seem to have been doubled up across the classes – though a few also provide the voices of some of the NPCs. This occasionally leads to situations where Jennifer Hale, the voice of the Female Trooper, will be conversing with Jennifer Hale, the voice of Jedi Grand Master Satele Shan. It’s uncommon, and more funny than it is irritating, but you will occasionally notice some reuse of actors as you explore the galaxy.

With the heavy emphasis on story common to BioWare games there was an expectation that certain other areas of the game might suffer as a result. With all of the player characters being fully voiced, each character having five unique companions who are also fully voiced, all of the NPCs fully voiced and each class having 60-100 hours of unique questlines, surely some corners have been cut?

Well, yes. A little. Due to the length of time it has taken BioWare to craft what is one of the most content-heavy MMOs in history, the graphic quality isn’t quite up to what you would expect from a modern MMO. Most of the game looks fine, there are even some quite beautiful spots on various planets. But in other places, the textures range from bland to downright ugly. Weapon and armour models vary from intricately detailed and exquisitely textured to flat, blurry looking disasters.

It’s not something you will notice most of the time, unless you are looking for it, as effects like explosions, the animated twirl of lightsabers and the deflection of blaster bolts are all top notch. This inconsistency in quality is something BioWare could rectify in due course and it would do wonders for the perception of the game’s graphics.

[img_big]center,5446,2012-01-11/ss03_full-1.jpg,Star Wars: The Old Republic[/img_big]

Other niggling issues pop up, indicative of the game not quite being ready for release. Companions sent on Crew Skill Missions will occasionally come back apologising for a poor performance, despite succeeding, or they’ll be proud of their success when the mission was actually a failure. The galaxy abounds with places you can jump into – but not back out of – necessitating the use of the /stuck command, or the game’s fast travel system. There was also an occasional issue where players would be unceremoniously dumped out of the game’s taxi service speeders, often plummeting to their deaths between the skyscrapers of Coruscant.

But most of the problems with the game are minor, nitpicky things. Bits and pieces here and there that will be tidied up in the weeks and months ahead, as is common with other MMOs. And unlike other MMOs, those fixes won’t be vying for development time with game breaking bugs and untenable server populations.

If you’re after a new MMO but aren’t keen on learning everything from scratch, Star Wars: The Old Republic has many of the same basic gameplay tenets of a World of Warcraft or RIFT, but with a storyline you’re going to give a damn about, characters you’ll love (or want to punch in the face for the right reasons) and a familiar setting that still feels fresh for being relatively unexplored previously.

If you’ve never played an MMO before but think it’s something you’d be interested in, this is about as friendly to newcomers as you’re going to get, while still including the hefty challenges to face later that most gamers crave.

[img_big]center,5446,2012-01-11/ss_rattataki1_full.jpg,Star Wars: The Old Republic[/img_big]

And if you’re just a fan of BioWare‘s superb singleplayer RPGs, like Baldur’s Gate, KOTOR, Dragon Age and Mass Effect, this is very much the game you are looking for. This is BioWare turned up to 11. Asking if you want candy. While you ride a pony. IN SPACE.

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